Friday, January 30, 2009

Mido for Wigan Athletic (v Liverpool), 28 January 2009

Henry Winter today: "Manchester City failing to sign Kaka but getting Craig Bellamy is a bit like having a ticket for the Rio carnival but ending up at a karaoke night in Cardiff......"

Arsenal 2-0 West Ham
Aston Villa 2-1 Wigan
Bolton 0-1 Tottenham
Fulham 2-1 Portsmouth
Hull 1-1 West Brom
Man Utd 1-0 Everton
Middlesbrough 1-2 Blackburn
Stoke 0-0 Man City
Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea
Newcastle 0-0 Sunderland

Wildcards from the Championship

Cardiff 2-1 Nottingham Forest
Preston 1-0 Sheff Utd
QPR 1-1 Reading

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Giles Barnes for Derby County (v Manchester Utd), 20 January 2009

Hello all.

Some fascinating (honest) stuff about the "winter European leagues" here. An unprecedented four "first time league winners", you know......

It's the FA Cup again this weekend - watch in awe as all the big teams go through!!! (although United having no defenders to speak of is a bit of a worry....)

Chelsea 2-0 Ipswich
Doncaster Rovers 2-1 Aston Villa
Hartlepool 1-1 West Ham
Kettering 0-2 Fulham
Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham
Sunderland 1-1 Blackburn Rovers
Torquay 2-1 Coventry City
Wolves 2-0 Middlesbrough
Cardiff 0-2 Arsenal
Liverpool 1-0 Everton

Wildcards from the mighty Eredivisie this week:

Groningen 1-1 Ajax
Vitesse 2-1 NEC

Monday, January 19, 2009

Veigar Pall Gunnarsson for Stabaek (v Valerenga), 26 October 2008

Even though it's only the third week of the New Year there are European leagues whose titles and glory have already been decided, and it is fair to say that it has been the year of the underdog. Bearing in mind the relative uncompetitiveness of the major European leagues (in terms of who wins them) these four leagues had the most amazing seasons......

After a nailbiting finish to the 2007 Allsvenskan league season, 2008 had another similarly tense denouement. Last season's champions Gothenburg could only manage a 3rd place finish (ten points off the pace) and so the title once again went down to the final day of the season.

2006 Champions Elfsborg ended up falling agonisingly short and the title went to last years runners-up Kalmar FF. Remarkably, it is Kalmar's first ever league title and they were only prevented from a historic double by a penalty shootout defeat to Gothenburg in the Svenska Cup final. Their success is even more astonishing considering that the club were in the second tier of Swedish football as recently as 2003.

With nine different winners since 1997, the Allsvenskan remains one of Europe's most interesting and competitive leagues.

It was pretty much a complete changing of the guard in Norway this season. After the joy last year of their first league title since 1963 Brann had a disappointing season finishing in a lowly eighth place, twenty-one points off the Championship pace. Rosenborg's relative decline continued also, as having won fifteen of the previous seventeen league titles they could only manage to match 2007's disappointing fifth place.

Third in 2007, Viking could only finish sixth, and the fourth place team in 2007, Lillestrom, finished a place above the relegation play-offs losing their management along the way (replacing them with ex Manchester United defender Henning Berg.)

It was therefore to be another Scandinavian fairytale as Stabaek clinched their first ever league title with their 6-2 victory over Valerenga in the penultimate match of the season. Unfashionable Frederikstad were second, Tromso third and newly promoted Bodo/Glimt finished an excellent fourth just two points off a Europa League spot.

2005 champions Valerenga were victorious in the Cup and claim the final Europa League place.

An unprecedented hat-trick of "first time league winners" was completed in the Russian Premier League. Unfancied FC Rubin Kazan from the Tatarstan Republic (only promoted to the top flight in 2003) won the Russian title on matchday 27. Wagner Love's 20 goals propelled CSKA Moscow into second place with Dinamo Moscow in third.

UEFA Cup and Super Cup winners Zenit St Petersburg could only finish in fifth place despite spending a cool €30 million on Danny, the most expensive player in Russian football history. This means they fail to qualify for the Champions League in 2009/10.

Interestingly (and somewhat bizarrely), Rubin's players were completely absent from the Russian Football Unions's "best league XI" announced at the end of the season. Zenit managed five players despite scraping into a European spot on goal difference and the team above them (Amkar Perm) also saw none of its players recognised....

To complete an amazing sequence in the "summer leagues" of European football, Finland also, incredibly, had a "first time" league winner in 2008.

Founded as recently as 1990, FC Inter are based in the Finnish city of Turku, the country's fifth largest. Having never achieved a league finish higher than fourth, the small team (ground capacity of 9,000) beat FF Jaro in their final game of the season to take the title by four points.

Inter were pushed to the line by the fantastically names FC Honka who will be joined in the Europa Leage by FC Lahti and HJK Helsinki.

Aleksander Kokko took the "top scorer" golden boot as well as "young player of the year" and "attacker of the year" awards.

It was a bad season for last years top teams - champions Tampere United could only finish eight with their main rivals FC Haka one place below them.

Champions: Kalmar FF
Europa League: Elfsborg, IFK Gothenburg, Helsingborg

Champions: Stabaek
Europa League: Frederikstad, Tromso

Champions: FC Rubin Kazan
Champions League: CSKA Moscow
Europa League: Dinamo Moscow, Amkar Perm, Zenit St Petersburg

Champions: FC Inter
Europa League: FC Honka, FC Lahti, HJK

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Nemanja Vidic (for Manchester Utd) v Chelsea, 11 January 2009

I'm willing to wager five of your fine English pounds that Kaka wins the "Championship Player Of The Year Award 2009/10"....

Blackburn 2-1 Newcastle
Bolton 0-1 Man Utd
Chelsea 2-0 Stoke
Hull 0-2 Arsenal
Man City 2-1 Wigan
Sunderland 1-1 Aston Villa
West Brom 2-1 Middlesbrough
Tottenham 3-0 Portsmouth
West Ham 1-1 Fulham
Liverpool 1-0 Everton

Wildcards from the Belge, this week:

Club Brugge 2-0 KV Mechelen
Mons 1-0 AA Gent
Charleroi 1-1 Westerlo

Monday, January 12, 2009

Nicklas Bendtner for Arsenal (v Bolton Wanderers), 10 January 2009

If there's one thing in football that is guaranteed to get my hackles up, it is people in the game bemoaning the tactics of opposition teams. It was Arsene Wenger and Robin van Persie's turn this weekend, the latter describing Bolton's tactics at the Emirates as "not realyl football".

Apoplogies to regular readers as I have made this rant before, last time aimed at jug-eared smugster Gary Lineker after he described Spain's victory over Italy at Euro 2008 as "a victory for football".

Football has some general rules and the idea of the game is that you play within them. Nowhere does it say that you have to ping the ball about like it's a practice game and nowhere does it prohibit eight giant lumping centre halves being placed behind the ball at all time.

I'm not saying that I'd pay to watch Bolton's, er, "direct" tactics week in, week out - I'd much rather watch Arsenal (generally speaking). What I object to, though, is this arrogant and patronising argument that "our tactics are better than yours". Arsenal won the game 1-0 so, obviously, their ethos, tactics and personnel won the day.

If teams are overly aggressive, thuggish and brutal then I guess there might be a point. But Bolton (points for Premiership survival a priority over everything else) are entitled to approach a tricky away fixture in whatever way they see fit, and if that involves them putting eleven men behind the ball for ninety minutes then the best of luck to them. It might not be pretty, but it is valid.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Kris Commons for Derby County (v Manchester Utd), 7 January 2009

After our well-deserved winter break it's time to get back into the swing of the Predictions League as we wind our way towards the end of the season...

Arsenal 2-0 Bolton
Aston Villa 3-1 West Brom
Everton 2-0 Hull
Fulham 2-1 Blackburn
Middlesbrough 1-1 Sunderland
Newcastle 1-0 West Ham
Portsmouth 1-1 Man City
Stoke 0-0 Liverpool
Manchester Utd 2-0 Chelsea
Wigan 2-2 Tottenham

Wildcards this week are based on Sunday's big game: (3 points for correct answers)

First booking in Man Utd v Chelsea: Ronaldo
First goalscorer in Man Utd v Chelsea: Wayne Rooney

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Steven Gerrard for Liverpool (v Newcastle Utd), 28 December 2008

So, then, we're half way through the season and for everyone other than the top Four (and Arsenal, ha ha) it's basically turned into a relegation dogfight. Everton in 6th are safe-ish (you'd think) but from there downwards the next five months are fundamentally a scrap to stay in the division.

Six of the teams have changed their manager (some voluntarily, some with no option) and it remains to see whether the likes of Big Sam or (and how bizarre was this?) Joe Kinnear can save them.

At the start of the campaign, ST predicted the three promoted teams would go down. I thought Boro, Stoke and Bolton. Right now either of us could be correct, or we could both be completely wrong. My gut feeling is that Big Sam will save Rovers, new management at Spurs and Sunderland will propel them to mid-table and Hull's amazing start will be enough.

I fear for the teams about to lose important players. Tony Adams' Portsmouth seem to be in freefall and the imminent departure of Jermain Defoe can't help. Boro seem set to lose Stewart Downing (and possibly others) which will make a threadbare squad look even less competitive. My biggest fear though is for Newcastle who look weak as it is and the possible departure of Shay Given (notwithstanding the capable back-up of Steve Harper) and an injury to Michael Owen could see them really struggle. I'm not sure Barry Ferguson is the solution either, after his previous ignominious flirtation with the Premier League a few years back.

So, it should be an interesting few months. Three to go down? Newcastle, Portsmouth and West Brom. No. Stoke, Boro and Bolton. No. West Brom, Bolton and Boro. Oh, I don't know. Toss a coin, maybe.